Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Connecticut Democrat needs to page Joseph Ellis

The New York Times has a bombshell of a story about the Democratic candidate for Senator Dodd's seat in Connecticut. Richard Blumenthal, the state's attorney general who has been in the lead by about 20 points over his potential Republican rivals, has made a habit of referring to his time served in Vietnam.
At a ceremony honoring veterans and senior citizens who sent presents to soldiers overseas, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut rose and spoke of an earlier time in his life.

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”
He shares with audiences how difficult it was to return from Vietnam and face the anger and abuse.
In 2003, he addressed a rally in Bridgeport, where about 100 military families gathered to express support for American troops overseas. “When we returned, we saw nothing like this,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Let us do better by this generation of men and women.”

At a 2008 ceremony in front of the Veterans War Memorial Building in Shelton, he praised the audience for paying tribute to troops fighting abroad, noting that America had not always done so.

“I served during the Vietnam era,” he said. “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse.”
The only problem is that, well, he just didn't serve in Vietnam.
There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.

The deferments allowed Mr. Blumenthal to complete his studies at Harvard; pursue a graduate fellowship in England; serve as a special assistant to The Washington Post’s publisher, Katharine Graham; and ultimately take a job in the Nixon White House.

In 1970, with his last deferment in jeopardy, he landed a coveted spot in the Marine Reserve, which virtually guaranteed that he would not be sent to Vietnam. He joined a unit in Washington that conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.

Many politicians have faced questions over their decisions during the Vietnam War, and Mr. Blumenthal, who is seeking the seat being vacated by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, is not alone in staying out of the war.

But what is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans’ ceremonies or other patriotic events.

Sometimes his remarks have been plainly untrue, as in his speech to the group in Norwalk. At other times, he has used more ambiguous language, but the impression left on audiences can be similar.

In an interview on Monday, the attorney general said that he had misspoken about his service during the Norwalk event and might have misspoken on other occasions. “My intention has always been to be completely clear and accurate and straightforward, out of respect to the veterans who served in Vietnam,” he said.
Yes, he has such respect for those veterans that he likes to leave the impression that he is one of them.

And when newspapers have printed up his biography touting his military service, he has done nothing to correct the record.
Mr. Blumenthal, 64, is known as a brilliant lawyer who likes to argue cases in court and uses language with power and precision. He is also savvy about the news media and attentive to how he is portrayed in the press.

But the way he speaks about his military service has led to confusion and frequent mischaracterizations of his biography in his home state newspapers. In at least eight newspaper articles published in Connecticut from 2003 to 2009, he is described as having served in Vietnam.

The New Haven Register on July 20, 2006, described him as “a veteran of the Vietnam War,” and on April 6, 2007, said that the attorney general had “served in the Marines in Vietnam.” On May 26, 2009, The Connecticut Post, a Bridgeport newspaper that is the state’s third-largest daily, described Mr. Blumenthal as “a Vietnam veteran.” The Shelton Weekly reported on May 23, 2008, that Mr. Blumenthal “was met with applause when he spoke about his experience as a Marine sergeant in Vietnam.”

And the idea that he served in Vietnam has become such an accepted part of his public biography that when a national outlet, Slate magazine, produced a profile of Mr. Blumenthal in 2000, it said he had “enlisted in the Marines rather than duck the Vietnam draft.”

It does not appear that Mr. Blumenthal ever sought to correct those mistakes.
Although, he has on some occasions made clear in speeches that he didn't serve in Vietnam, there are all sorts of other instances where he definitely uses languages like saying he "returned" from Vietnam. His office has issued a non-denial denial.
"The New York Times story is an outrageous distortion of Dick Blumenthal's record of service," Blumenthal's campaign manager, Mindy Myers, said in a statement.

"Unlike many of his peers, Dick Blumenthal voluntarily joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1970 and served for six months in Parris Island, SC and six years in the reserves. He received no special treatment from anyone."

Previewing a campaign event tomorrow, Myers wrote that "Dick has a long record of standing up for veterans. Tomorrow, veterans will be standing up with Dick."

Blumenthal will hold a news conference tomorrow. He will be flanked by veterans.
Sure, any politician can bring out veterans to stand up with him on a stage. But there is something distinctly slimy about trying to cloak himself in their glory. Democrats gloried in ridiculing George W. Bush for having served in the Air Force Reserve, but at least Bush never tried to imply that he'd actually flown jets in Vietnam.

This whole story is reminiscent of the scandal a few years ago about prominent historian Joseph Ellis who used to regale his classes at Mount Holyoke with his vivid memories from serving as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. When his lies were revealed, he was made to take a year off without pay from teaching. But he returned to the classroom and is still a very popular professor as well as a noted scholar who has written best-selling books on the Founding era. He was last seen in public life writing a column in the Washington Post building up straw men arguments about originalism and knocking down those fabrications.

So lying about your war record doesn't have to destroy a career. But it's a very tough thing to explain away in politics. Blumenthal might well be able to cart around some supportive veterans who served to stand up with him and say that it doesn't matter that he tried to cloak himself with a bit of their valor in order to puff himself up. Whether he can do so in time for the election in November is another matter. Even in Connecticut.

His potential opponents are either Linda McMahon or Rob Simmons. If Simmons wins, as Allahpundit points out, actually enlisted as a private in Vietnam and served there where he won two Bronze Star Medals and rose to being a colonel in the Army Reserve. That would be quite a contrast and a reason for Republican voters to choose Simmons over Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment although she's been doing better in polls against Blumenthal than Simmons.

Given that Blumenthal has been holding double-digit leads against his potential Republican challengers, I would suppose that the Democratic Party will stand behind the guy unless those polls plummet. Do Connecticut voters care that the guy has been lying about his war record? We'll see. I will bet that the party won't care unless the polls tell them otherwise. Though if they do have to get him to step aside, Public Policy Polling argues that there is another Democratic politician in the wings who could hold the seat.

It's funny. This is a seat that Chris Dodd had to retire from the Senate otherwise he was going to be toast in the election. His own sleazy record had so tarnished him in the eyes of his constituents that he chose to retire and clear the way for Blumenthal. Now Dodd is back pushing his deceptive and pernicious financial reform bill. The guy was too sleazy to run for reelection, but the Democrats are happy to have him out there as their leader in a major piece of legislation. Why would the party balk at having a guy on the ticket in Connecticut when all he did was imply he served in Vietnam instead of getting a job working for Katharine Graham in Washington even if he spent some of that time tutoring poor children in Anacostia?

And having an honored member of the Democratic Party in the Senate who has lied about serving in Vietnam is nothing new. After all, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa used to like to tell audiences about his service flying missions in Vietnam. The only problem was that he spent his time serving in the Navy based in Japan ferrying aircraft back and forth to the Philippines for repairs. And he's still in the Senate and has been reelected since his lies were exposed. Why should Blumenthal's lies matter to the Democrats?